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Employee Perceptions of Physical Security in North American Jewish Nonprofits

by Alena Akselrod

Survey data for a Jewish community on heightened alert.

In the wake of Saturday’s devastating invasion and unspeakably savage mass murder in Israel, Jewish nonprofit organizations in North America are mobilizing to support Israel’s defense and resilience, and, at the same time, coping with additional needs and concerns arising in Diaspora Jewish communities and in their organizations. One of those concerns — not new, but significantly heightened in urgency — is physical security.

Last year, Leading Edge collected data on employees’ perceptions of physical security. We’ll be sharing a full report on our 2023 Employee Experience Survey data soon (which gathered data from 18,212 employees across 327 organizations), but in the context of this new crisis, here are some updates on physical security based on our 2023 numbers.

It’s important to note that this survey was conducted in May 2023, many months before the horrors of October. The current crisis makes the data newly relevant, but it is still a picture of the situation before it happened. That being said, here’s what we can see.

Most Jewish nonprofit employees work in person at least part of the week — making security a concern for a majority of the field.

To the extent Jewish nonprofit employees are vulnerable to attack on that organization, it’s because they work there in person. In 2023, we found that 86% of Jewish nonprofit employees work in person (i.e., outside their home) for at least part of the week. That figure was 76% in 2022. The increase may indicate an increase in post-COVID returns to the office.

A strong majority of in-person employees say their organization has a plan to respond to physical threats.

 We asked employees who work outside the home at least part of the week (15,673 people) two questions about physical security.

In 2023,  85% of those employees said their organization has a plan for how to respond to physical security threats. That figure was 84% in 2022, only barely different. Among those who didn’t respond “Yes,” most didn’t answer the question, with only 3% responding “I don’t know” and 2% responding “No.”

Most in-person employees feel prepared to act in the event of an attack — but one in seven do not.

In 2023, 75% of in-person employees said they feel prepared to act if faced with a physical security threat. That figure was 72% in 2022, only slightly different.

One in every seven in-person employees (14%) answered “No”, indicating that they do not feel prepared to act in the event of an attack.

In-person employees at social justice/advocacy organizations are especially likely to answer “no” to the security questions.

Leading Edge categorizes organizations into 15 organization types. This division is an art, not a science, and some categories overlap. (For example, some organizations have the services, functions, or agencies of a number of categories. For example, an organization might be both a Federation and a JCC, or a JCC and social services/human services agency. In these cases, we call the organization an “integrated community.”) But we find it to be a useful lens of analysis. Here’s the breakdown by type of organizations who participated in our 2023 survey:

When we look at how employees in different organization types answer the security question, it becomes clear that social justice/advocacy organizations have teams that are much less likely to feel safe compared with employees at other organization types. This type of organization represents 5% of organizations surveyed and also 5% of employees — one in twenty.

My organization has a plan for how to respond to a physical security threat — percentage of in-person employees answering “No”:

I feel prepared to act if faced with a physical security threat — percentage of in-person employees answering “No”:

We don’t know enough to have good theories about why this problem appears most severe in social justice/advocacy organizations, but this finding has also stayed the same from 2022 to 2023. 

Physical security affects more than security.

Writing about these physical security results last year, we noted that these physical security findings are relevant to more than security alone. “Compared with employees who do feel prepared to act in the event of a security threat, employees who do not feel prepared to act are much less likely to express confidence in their organization’s leaders,” we wrote at the time.

This year’s data shows this is still true — feeling prepared to act in the event of a security threat is strongly associated with confidence in the organization’s leaders in 2023.

Furthermore, this year two more parts of the employee experience appear strongly correlated as well, which we did not see last year. What we call “employee enablement” (i.e., people feeling that they have supports and systems that make them able to succeed in their work) and “employee engagement” (feeling proud of the organization, wanting to stay there, motivated to do your best work, and likely to recommend the organization as a great place to work) are also strongly related to this feeling prepared to act in the event of a security threat. Feeling prepared for security threats apparently makes employees more engaged, enabled, and confident in their leaders.

This is a big deal, particularly regarding employee engagement, because engagement is the single most important metric for successful team cultures. And it makes sense that this vital concept would be affected by a sense of security. People can’t focus on doing amazing work if they don’t feel physically safe.

Stay safe out there.

Before October 7, the reality and threat of violent attacks on Jewish organizations was relatively rare. Last weekend,  that changed. The world got an unforgettable, unforgivable, and agonizing reminder that what has been is not an indicator of what might be. 

We applaud efforts by leaders of Jewish nonprofits to ensure their people are safe. We pray those efforts are not tested, and we look forward to continuing to partner with everyone in the Jewish nonprofit sector as we navigate this painful time together and eventually find our way out of this place of darkness and toward new hopes and new possibilities.

About the Author
  • Alena Akselrod is Senior Director of Data Strategy at Leading Edge.

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